On a cold Lexington night in Memorial Coliseum where both teams were honoring the legacy of the late Pat Summit, Tennessee’s Hall-of-Fame coach, the No.15 Kentucky Wildcats (17-3) defeated the No. 25 Missouri Tigers (15-6) by a score of 52-41.
After coming out flat in the first half, the Wildcats rallied in the second half behind Taylor Murray for a huge Kentucky win.
Murray, who sat out the previous game against LSU with an injury, led the Wildcats with 21 points and four steals, 19 of her points coming in the second half alone.
Rhyne Howard recorded a season-low four points on 1-8 shooting after she also missed the game against LSU. She didn’t make her first shot until early in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky shot 35 percent from the field while holding the Tigers to under 33 percent shooting and also forcing 20 turnovers – nearly five above Missouri’s season average.
The game started out fast, with both teams pushing the pace and shooting as many threes as possible. There was hardly a whistle through the first four minutes and Kentucky quickly found themselves in a 7-2 hole.
The two teams combined to begin the game 3-10 from deep, with the Cats missing all four of their attempts. Missouri – the SEC’s leader in three-pointers made – was allowed open look after look from the corners, specifically in the early moments of the game.
Once things began to settle and the quick pace turned into more half-court sets, the open looks for Missouri subsided, but Kentucky could hardly find the basket.
Several missed layups that normally find the bottom of the net were clanked off the side of the rim. Maci Morris, Howard, and Ogechi Anyagaligbo all missed shots right at the hoop early in the game.
The Wildcats would score only 10 points in the first quarter and 18 for the entire first half, shooting a lowly 28 percent from the field and making only one of their eight three-point attempts. Morris led the team with four points while Howard was 0-5 from the field at the intermission.
Kentucky did manage to force eight Tiger turnovers but coughed the ball up nine times themselves.
Sophie Cunningham – the 6-foot-1 guard who leads Missouri in scoring at 15.9 points per game – led her team with 11 points at halftime and finished with 17 for the game.
To start the second half, Taylor Murray immediately set the tone and came out searching for blood.
The first five minutes of the third quarter was the most dominant Murray has been all season. She went on her own personal 6-0 run to open the half and scored 12 of Kentucky’s first 13 points, disrupting ball handlers and passing lanes while getting to the rim as if it wronged her in a previous life.
She finished the third quarter scoring 13 of Kentucky’s 18 points, which matched the team’s entire first-half scoring output. She also recorded four steals in the third after having zero through the first 20 minutes.
Kentucky would take the lead heading into the fourth quarter, 36-28, thanks to Murray’s superb performance on both ends of the floor.
The Wildcats would not lose that lead again. Howard finally hit her first bucket of the night, a three-pointer early in the quarter, while Tatyana Wyatt hit a three of her own while playing excellent defense, rebounding everything in sight, and scoring six of her 11 points.
Missouri managed to cut it down to a five-point lead with under five minutes remaining, but they missed a few open threes they hit in the first half and still couldn’t contain Murray. After some free throws down the stretch, Kentucky iced the game in the final minute to win their second-straight conference game.
Kentucky would outscore Missouri 34-20 in the second half.
The next matchup for the Cats will come against the Texas A&M Aggies (14-4) in College Station. That game will take place at 5 p.m. on Sunday and will air on SEC Network.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan